Do rabbits eat voles? Apparent competition, habitat heterogeneity and large-scale coexistence under mink predation




Habitat heterogeneity is predicted to profoundly influence the dynamics of indirect interspecific interactions; however, despite potentially significant consequences for multi-species persistence, this remains almost completely unexplored in large-scale natural landscapes. Moreover, how spatial habitat heterogeneity affects the persistence of interacting invasive and native species is also poorly understood. Here we show how the persistence of a native prey (water vole, Arvicola terrestris) is determined by the spatial distribution of an invasive prey (European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus) and directly infer how this is defined by the mobility of a shared invasive predator (American mink, Neovison vison). This study uniquely demonstrates that variation in habitat connectivity in large-scale natural landscapes creates spatial asynchrony, enabling coexistence between apparent competitive native and invasive species. These findings highlight that unexpected interactions may be involved in species declines, and also that in such cases habitat heterogeneity should be considered in wildlife management decisions.